Debt Dept
Label ©  Paw Tracks
Release Year  2008
Length  43:43
Genre  Experimental
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  E-0071
Bitrate  ~177 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      Shots Ping  
      Kill People  
      Any and Every  
      The Last Dance  
      Walking Through  
      The Night  
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      Review by Ned Raggett

      Excepter's own bemusing path through the murkier corners of whatever the noise scene of the early 21st century is has likely frustrated as many fans as it has entranced -- it's no surprise that they've ended up on Animal Collective's label, and Debt Dept shows why it's a good home for them. Beginning with the logically entitled "Entrance 08," an intentionally trudging number that actually keeps up the pace, Excepter are again showing that the conventional way to mix a song isn't the only one. Vocals here, as throughout the album, exist almost as addenda to the songs -- not just background textures but not anything else either, giving a sense of a series of dramatic recitations being heard from a few doors over, evocative but not quite understandable. The song itself is a perfect, lengthy statement of purpose with its up-front guitars and increasingly stripped-down and focused drones -- get in or get out, the band almost seems to be saying -- and from there Debt Dept explores a variety of takes on the basic sound. While comparisons could be made to various no wave forebears, an interesting analog -- suggested by songs like "Kill People," with its hollow drum sounds and general murk -- would be the experimental side of early Bauhaus, where such demi-instrumentals as "Untitled" and "Earwax" held sway. Meanwhile, "Greenhouse/Stretch" is an actual death disco number of sorts -- or at least a dance track for actual zombies, thanks to its core keyboard loop squelch -- while the concluding "Sunrise" (at least not counting the bonus track, "'Burgers") is an honest to God rock epic in the band's own way, thanks to the build of the verses and the way it feels more like an "actual" song as such, or more accurately a more conventional one.

      Debt Dept
      [Paw Tracks; 2008]
      Rating: 7.8
      Excepter fans tend to fall into two camps: diehard believers, and semi-skeptics willing to take the bad with the good. As the Brooklyn group's mix of bleeping sub-disco, stoned moaning, and Casio dub has slowly expanded, the latter faction seems to have grown, too. Even positive reviews often seem bemused by Excepter's peak-and-valley drift, especially their meandering live shows, which can alternate between magic and tedium. But if you've drank the Excepter Kool-Aid, the group's "boring" stretches are part of their charm, as they can sneakily morph into epiphanies. In that sense, Excepter are a psych group, their music mimicking the way drugs kick in right after you stop checking to see if they have.

      The funny thing is, there actually aren't that many dead spots on Excepter albums. Throne and Sunbomber are filled with peaks, and even less consistent efforts like KA and Alternation have minimal valleys. It helps that singer John Fell Ryan is an excellent editor, mining musical gold from raw sonic murk. Still, the threat of boredom always lurks, which explains how music this passive-sounding can be so tense. Ryan knows when to let ideas work themselves out, allowing generic sounds to gestate into something new. Sure, Excepter's music could be sharper and tighter-- but it would probably be drier and less interesting, too.

      Debt Dept, Excepter's first release on Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label, is neither sharp nor tight, but simply another solid addition to the band's oeuvre. It takes the shape of an Excepter show, starting slow and a bit lifeless, as if the musicians are warming up separately. The lumbering "Entrance 08", thin "Shots Ring", and hip-hop-ish "Kill People" are all interesting but skeletal, like promising tracings that the band forgot to ink in. But Debt Dept rewards patience; once "Any and Every" launches into a Black Dice-like mix of beats and yelps, Excepter ride a unwavering high the rest of the way.

      Much of this high comes from standard Excepter strengths-- rolling loops, clicking drum machines, and droning synths woven together deftly by Dan Hougland, Jon Nicholson, and Nathan Corbin. But there's also a boost from new singers Clare Amory and Lala Harrison, who hum hypnotic circles around Ryan's zombie moans. It recalls Excepter's early days, when previous vocalists Caitlin Cook and Calder Martin made the band sound like a cemetery full of ghosts. No one will confuse Debt Dept's sparseness with KA's noise, but it's nice to hear that element seep back into the band's elastic approach.

      All these factors make "The Last Dance" smoothly hypnotic, "Walking Through the Night" gorgeously eerie, and "Sunrise" (which ends with a strange semi-cover of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground") insistently tense. And they peak in "Greenhouse/Stretch", whose two mesmerizing halves-- one a wavy synth stomp, the other a trippy dub loop-- are bridged by sublime female vocals. Such highlights would be impossible without Excepter's willingness to risk tedium, and Debt Dept is a testament to the value of ambition over perfection.

      -Marc Masters, March 28, 2008

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